In the sixth century BC, in Miletus or Asia Minor (Greece), the concept of rational thought was developed. The Greeks are the first civilization in the Western culture to come into contact with new cultures, new ways of thinking and understanding the world, which ultimately causes a crisis of values. This culture is the first to ponder the question of “what is the meaning of life?”, the concept of “right thought” and how to explain reality. Influenced by other possibilities of life, Greece begins to consider new challenges, new ways of viewing life and explaining it. This period is known as “the transition from myth to logos” which we are going to explain in more detail.
WHAT IS A MYTH?
A myth is any traditional story consisting of events that are ostensibly historical, though often supernatural, explaining the origins of a cultural practice or natural phenomenon. Myths are often stories that are currently understood as being exaggerated or fictitious. It is derived from the Greek word mythos (μῦθος), which simply means “story”. Mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. A myth also can be a story to explain why something exists.
Human cultures usually include a cosmogonical or creation myth, concerning the origins of the world, or how the world came to exist. The active beings in myths are generally gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, or animals and plants. Most myths are set in a timeless past before recorded time or beginning of the critical history. A myth can be a story involving symbols that are capable of multiple meanings.
A myth is a sacred narrative because it holds religious or spiritual significance for those who tell it. Myths also contribute to and express a culture’s systems of thought and values.
|A myth is a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.|
CHARACTERISTICS OF MYTHS: What is the difference between “mythos” and “logos”?
|Mythical thought is an anthropomorphic way of thinking. The main characters are men or figures with human shape, like gods or heroes.
|Rational thought is not anthropomorphic. Rational explanations search the natural causes of phenomena.|
|Mythical thought is arbitrary. Facts in this world happen because of deities’ will. [Things happen using unlimited personal power without considering other people’s wishes.]
“Arbitrary” is what someone wants to happen: e.g. “It was God’s will.”
|Rational thought is not arbitrary because it looks for explanatory laws and theories in order to understand the universe.|
|Mythical thought is traditional. Mythical beliefs pass down from parents to children.||Rational thought is innovative and critical. It is continuously discovering new laws about the universe and it casts doubt on old beliefs and convictions.
|Mythical thought is collective. Myths are usually anonymous and shared by a community who feel identified with them.||Rational thought is individual. Theories are not anonymous because they are defended by someone (a philosopher, a thinker…).|
|Mythical thought is fantastic. Imagination is the main source of explanation.||Rational thought is logical. Its main source is observation, experience and critical rationality.
TYPES/KINDS OF MYTHS
- Cosmogonic myth: describes the creation of the world.
- Etiological myth: explains an origin, particularly how an object or custom came into existence.
- Eschatological myth: is concerned with the future or the end of the world or of humankind.
- Moral myth: is concerned with behavioural patterns.
Answer these questions:
- What are myths?
- What are myths for?
Read the myth. Then, answer these questions:
- Write a summary of this myth (10-15 lines).
- What does this myth explain?
- What kind of myth is it? Why?
- What are the characteristics of myths in this text?